After we received a comment to one of our blogs regarding self-representation in a divorce case, it seemed necessary not just to address the possibility of representing yourself, but also the wisdom of doing so. Please follow the links at the bottom of this post to review the whole article.
While you are not required to hire an attorney to obtain a divorce in Missouri, the question of whether the suggestion posted in the comment was good advice should not be answered with a simple Yes or No. Here are just a few reasons why: (1) “Competently researching the law” is not always that simple; (2) “Filling in the blanks correctly” is not always that easy; and (3) there is a reason for the old adage: He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.
In the final installment of this post, it should not go unsaid that, when it comes to family law matters, even with legal training, it is my belief that one should not self-represent. Dusting off the proverb “He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” seems appropriate. Ask yourself: how impartial am I when negotiating custody of my children; possession of my house; payment of my credit card debt? How much do past issues regarding gambling, drug or alcohol addiction, abuse, or infidelity effect my negotiating position? There is an emotional detachment required to analyze the facts of a case and evaluate multiple courses towards resolution. If it is your marriage, and your kids, that detachment is unlikely to be achievable.
Even if you believe you are able to remain impartial ask yourself: Who is giving me advice on how to precede both procedurally as well as in determining what is fair for custody, support, and division of property/debt? The facts in every divorce are unique . . . be cautious of comparing your case and outcome to those of friends and acquaintances. Other people’s war stories and “common knowledge” may be very destructive to your divorce.
So should you get an attorney or not? My advice: divorce, as well as most family law matters, is not for the do-it-yourselfers out there. But either way, before you decide to represent yourself, you should always speak with an attorney regarding what your rights and obligations are towards your property, debts, custody, and support of both a child and a spouse. Seek advice early in the process to see what issues, specific to your legal matter, may need to be addressed. The best way to save money and avoid unnecessarily hurting feelings in a divorce is to remain open to discussing terms of settlement and understanding the limitations of our court system.
If you choose to try to work out an agreement before you file, see an attorney before you negotiate to assist you in remaining focused and efficient in negotiations. Also, as part of your negotiations, you should each agree to have your own attorney review your conclusions for fairness and any loose ends before you acknowledge any agreement by signing. Doing this before you consider the negotiations closed, will help both sides avoid buyer’s remorse.
Family law is a very complicated and specific area of the law. Use an experienced family law attorney you can trust to assist you in navigating this process.
Links: The Original Comment